How to Start a Sharing City

Echo Park Time Bank in Los Angeles, CA

The Basics of Starting a Sharing City

  • Link People

  • Common Ground

  • Common Action

1. Assess your capacity

  • Questions to ask yourself: Do you have a core team or an organization anchor already? If not, do you have the time to be the primary organizer? For how long? How many hours a week? Base your planning on your actual capacity, not your ideal capacity- this is not a sprint, its a long distance slow run – and it's better to build a core team than do it all yourself. Building a core team as you go along takes time and intention. You also don't want burn them out either. That said, you may need to put a lot of energy in temporarily at some point to give your organizing a big public boost, like a ShareFest.
  • What is your skillset and experience? Do you know people who might be interested that could fill in the gap you will need?
  • Key skills for starting a sharing city: social and group skills, organizing, event coordination, outreach or marketing (online, in print, in person), writing or public speaking.
  • Identify your passion. What's your motivation? This will get you through challenges.

2. Assess your target audience

  • Who is your target audience or potential membership? Are you specifically connected with already (students, elderly, low income folks, artists, activists, city government, etc)? Who makes things happen? What are they interested in? Where do they put their energy? What are their needs? Where do they meet? Is it the school or PTA, the Rotary Club, a local church, a local environmental or social justice organization, the food bank?
  • In smaller, less resourced, or more conservative towns, you may need to think outside the box. Consider adding sharing services hosted by churches, the commons and low cost or free services: like health clinics, community kitchens, food banks, parks, public pools, picnic areas, arts centers, community centers (or granges), community recreation centers or gyms, community housing projects, playgrounds, libraries, credit unions, public transit stops, schools, food coops, regular community gatherings like Harvest Festivals, County fairs and seed swaps and farmers markets.
  • Consider doing a #MapJam first with a few interested locals as an assessment tool and organizing strategy.
  • Ask how do you get buy in? (Note: Start with where people are already at. Don’t try to change or criticize people’s habits right off the bat, but inspire them to want to. Let them be transformed by the practice of sharing, cooperating, etc.) Attend other people's/group's events, meetings, set up listening sessions, assess their common needs, interests and skill set. Have the most fun! No, but seriously, doing activist work can feel like yet another job or chore. Make it social, fun, and comfortable (for diverse groups of people) so they will want to come back and you'll enjoy it too.
  • Potential sharing projects to approach: credit unions, public banks, microfinance and local investment, ongoing crowdfunding dinners (Sunday Soup), socially responsible investing firms, community currencies, slow money chapters, energy coops, producer coops, community gardens, coworking spaces, urban farms, hackerspaces, makerspaces, art collectives, fab labs, computer kitchens, repair cafes, tool or kitchen libraries, shared commercial kitchens, public parks, city repair projects, open space, community centers,housing coops, community land trusts, intentional communities, cohousing developments, tiny home villages, ecovillages, public libraries, carsharing pods, ridesharing stops, bike sharing, stations, worker coops, community acupuncture, free clinics, bike kitchens, childcare collectives, preschool coops, timebanks, education coops, free skools, community owned media, infoshops, free computer labs, food coops, farmer's markets, reuse stores, toy and seed libraries, barter markets, swaps, free stores, stationery free boxes and food pantries.

3. Assess your resources

What resources do you have in your community?

  • Funding: aligned businesses, credit union, college, community foundation, community soup, local crowdfunding or revolving loan fund,  fellowship, americorps program, etc.
  • Volunteers: is there a local volunteering organization or an aligned cause-based organization that might allow cross-over volunteers, a school or college that offers internships or community action projects, a local business or church that has volunteering programs. How do you keep them happy? Build in rewards and recognition. Build up responsibility and decision making power.
  • Space: think schools, colleges, community centers, libraries, colleges and churches, coworking or a makerspace if you have one.
  • Knowledge and expertise: Have locals present on their knowledge and bring in outside speakers for Sharing Drinks, Sharing Cafe, or something like that. Read Shareable, make allies in other cities
  • Other resources: Businesses that donate day old food, businesses that do marketing or printing for progressive organizations
  • Allies in organizing: City council or agency members, professors in progressive programs, social justice organizations, environmental organizations, transition towns, local economy centers, coworking or makerspaces, service nonprofits, churches, unions, community development organizations, libraries, community centers, local transit authority and of course all your local sharing projects and coop businesses.

4. Take a first step

  • Create an online social group: Facebook or Meetup group (whatever locals use most!), listserv and or easy website.
  • Who to invite: Try to reach out to people who are already in your circles that are most passionate about this work, people with time, skills and people connected to other resources as well as allied organizations.
  • Host an intimate first event: Include an element of sharing practice like a gift circle, swap skillshare, or potluck and get people's ideas about how they see sharing or new economy manifesting in their town. Don’t be afraid to try something before you feel a lot of people involve – events and projects are how you get people involved. Talking endlessly is not fun and not likely to keep people interested. They will enjoy actual sharing as much as talking about it OR MORE! Take some time to hear what people are already working on in this realm and then vision together.
  • Make it fun and social. There are plenty of activist events out there and people quickly burn out when they feel like all their "free time" is also work.
  • Ask your group: What kinds of projects, events, campaigns or infrastructure do you want to work on together? What's an easy, quick and rewarding first win? What do you have the time and resources to do successfully? What do people want/need most locally? How can you partner with local organizations or businesses? What are your goals based on your vision?
  • Sharing City Map Jam: Another possibility is to do a map jam at this stage. It's very inspiring for people to see what's already there that you have to build on.

Take action together

  • Pick a sharing project, local sharing infrastructure (like shared physical or online space), or large community event like a ShareFest to organize. Ideally it’s something with: broad appeal to your target audience, allies and volunteers. Make sure it's doable in a short to medium time frame, with few if any potential roadblocks, and will have rewarding results (publicly visible, impactful, needed and/or innovative) and your core team has consensed on.
  • Invite any desired partners and/or allies to participate.
  • Make it fun and social. There are plenty of activist events out there and people quickly burn out when they feel like all their "free time" is also work. Give people plenty of opportunity to connect and sometimes connect deeply. Cramming in a bunch of activities or rushing to get a project done ensures people won't have time to connect. People crave connection more than money and it only makes your work and your organizing more powerful. Think of relationships for the long haul over short-term progress.
  • Celebrate any successes large or small. People love to feel like they've accomplished something real and they can do it again.
  • Reward and recognize your team and any volunteers. When you don't have money, this form of reciprocity is particularly important.
  • Publicize your work at any opportunity. Invite the media and create your own through blogging, social media, flyers and newsletters. Use photos of people, quotes and personal stories that your audience can relate to in addition to abstract numbers and ideas.
  • Ask the volunteers who show up what they'd like to do next. The people who show up are your greatest resource so make sure they help decide your next project to keep them interested and invested.

The Details of Organizing a Sharing City

(IMPORTANT NOTES: Do not try to do all of this yourself – the more you focus on finding people and organizations to work with and take on responsibility, the more fun and sustainable the organizing will be. This ‘Activation Ladder’ may be very different for every community in sequence, speed and content of steps.)

Explore and review resources on the Sharing Cities Toolkit page of Shareable.

Plan initial sharing event (potluck, map jam, swap, RRFM, gift circle)

  • Sign up list, get names, emails and location to follow up after event
  • Start with people you know, including student groups, your church, or other personal contacts from local organizations and also strive for authentic diversity
  • Create a friendly environment for all kinds of people
  • Make it fun and social.
  • Help people meet each others’ real needs.
  • Remember everyone who comes is important, the star of the show, and a potential volunteer.

Create Facebook or Meetup group, listserv, MailChimp newsletter, paper newsletter, etc. for group communication and recruitment. (You could also set up initial SCN or local website but be sure at this early stage to be open in framing local organizing so that it is inclusive.)

  • Meet your audience/community where they are at. Ask them what they use to communicate.
  • Engage them weekly over social media and at least monthly by email in a social and reciprocal or generous manner (help promote their stuff too!)
  • Here’s some instruction for social media: webinar, guide, and best practices for beginners with tools.

Attend other groups’ events, speak and table to find volunteers or allied organizations.

  • Act with the intention of reciprocity. Do something to help them, like help with the event promotion, and don’t be afraid to ask for something in return. Reciprocity builds strong relationships.
  • Ask “How can we help your achieve your mission through sharing?”

Set up regular meetings

  • Community visioning
  • Set priorities for sharing projects
  • Engagement and communications plan
  • Regular sharing events to build momentum and get volunteers

Form a local collective/volunteer team

  • Find enthusiastic people that have: good social skills, common values, time to volunteer and needed skills for the organizing (general help is useful too!).
  • Identify roles or sub groups with point people to help with different aspects of the organizing. Make sure people appointed actually want to do the job since it’s probably volunteer.
  • Always aim to decentralize responsibility and thank and publicly recognize  volunteers when they come through.

Network and engage partners and volunteers in creating small event (10-50 people or less)

  • Read How to Host a Great Sharing Event and How to Organize an Event (a helpful guide for large events).
  • Partner with another organization or event for maximum attendance with less publicity.
  • Delegate, decentralize and self-assign roles.
  • Make it fun and social.
  • Remember everyone who comes is important, the star of the show, and a potential volunteer.
  • Send out a press release, get media and post your event to local listservs and media calendars
  • Collect attendee emails at event.
  • Take photos, quotes and video.
  • Write up article of event.
  • Send debrief of event through newsletter, FB posts with pics, promote article to local press and groups through social media etc.
  • Promote next meeting and ways to get involved.

OR initiate quick and easy sharing project for a “QUICK WIN” that meets real community needs

  • See Shareable’s “How to Share” project library and growing Learn Together pages for Seed Libraries, Timebanks and Tool Libraries (more to come!)
  • Ideally, pick a project inherently socially engaging and fun. For example, do not pick a project where people don’t have the opportunity to talk with each other.
  • Make sure you get community ideas and buy in before initiating project. Don’t choose something that you think is cool.
  • Find partners to work on project together.

Meet to discuss next event or sharing project and survey broader community

Next event, tagged onto existing event or informally in between could be Map Jam (start of sharing city asset mapping)

  • Engage community in asset mapping
  • Reach out to diverse, keystone community organizations to participate and/or host
  • Assess your community assets, strengths, gaps for new projects (e.g. housing is a key issue and no housing coops, but local land trust could support)
  • Identify possible connections or collaborations (e.g. community garden supplies seeds to seed library, tool library supports community gardening, composting working coop recycles waste for local urban farm, etc.)
  • Post map and/or directory online and solicit entries

Formalize your group

  • Define core team roles and/or working groups.
  • Create a vision together and craft points of unity.
  • Name your local sharing group and create a simple logo.
  • Create a structure and process for working together. Delegate, decentralize and self-assign roles. Try a holacracy or coop/collective model.
  • Figure out your “business model.” How will you sustain your organization with funds, volunteers, and other resources on a regular basis?
  • Incorporate sharing, connection and fun into all your meetings. For example Sharing City Drinks, a potluck, or swap is more fun than just “getting down to business.” Providing mutual aid and fun will differentiate you from a lot of other competing meetings. The stronger the bonds are between your group members, the more likely they are to stick around when things are tough.
  • If you plan to solicit donations or grants, consider first finding a local allied organization that can serve as your fiscal sponsor (they will also be able to provide a bank account, insurance, payroll services, etc.). When your group feels more solid, apply for a 501(c)3 status or incorporate as cooperative, Bcorp or other official entity.
  • If you are a group of students, creating a formal student group will give you a sense of continuity and access to financial and other campus resources.

Build web presence: website (for example free WordPress site) and/or SCN Page if you haven’t already

  • Apply to create a page, read the guide and watch webinar for page management or contact for a private tutorial.
  • Enroll a web or graphic designer to help you create a page or DIY with templates on WordPress.
  • Promote your new website through social media and a newsletter.
  • Solicit blog contributions and events to post from the broader community to give it a more diverse voice and create buy in.

Execute a more permanent or larger community-selected event or project

  • Build volunteer base and keep a list of contacts in Excel or in newsletter or listerv.
  • Find allies to work with on event or project like colleges, churches, social justice organizations, social service nonprofits, community development organizations, environmental nonprofits, values aligned local businesses, your local BALLE network, Transition Town and more.

Plan a ShareFest with partners and invite people who were mapped (opportunity for outreach and education)

  • Execute as public launch of local sharing organization
  • Take photos, quotes and video of ShareFest
  • Vision at or after ShareFest your sharing city plan
  • Sign up list, get names, emails and location to follow up after event
  • Create a friendly environment for all kinds of people
  • Make it fun and social.
  • Remember everyone who comes is important, the star of the show, and a potential volunteer.
  • Read How to Host a Great Sharing Event and How to Organize an Event (a helpful guide for large events)

Survey broader community to get ideas for new projects or existing projects to support

  • Ask colleges, churches, social justice organizations, social service nonprofits, community development organizations, environmental nonprofits, values aligned local businesses, your local BALLE network, Transition Town and more.
  • Paper surveys with drop boxes or at key events and tools like Google Forms, Wufoo and Survey Monkey work well.
  • Assess what’s missing from your map or do a sector analysis (food, housing, transit, education, healthcare, finance).

Host Sunday Soup to support new sharing projects and events, create crowdfunding campaign for Sharing City projects and initiatives, or apply for a mini-grant